Leah Levesque: Staying connected to the frontline while leading health system transformation

Leah Levesque: Staying connected to the frontline while leading health system transformation

Leah Levesque began her healthcare career at the bedside as a nurse working in the intensive care unit (ICU). It was when she started having a family that she considered other career options that didn’t include shift work.

“I had watched other managers in their roles and thought maybe that would be something of interest for me,” reflected, Leah, who began her new role as ARH’s President and CEO on October 1, 2021.

Leah had a diploma in nursing so as a next step she went back to school for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It took 10 years for Leah to complete her degree as she continued to work full time and raise two little kids. But once she finished, opportunities for various management roles became a possibility.

Leah Levesque, President and CEO, ARH

Shifting away from the bedside

“When I stepped away from the ICU, it felt a bit foreign because when you’re a bedside nurse that’s all you know. But as you take on other roles, you realize that a lot of the skills are transferrable – such as communication, time management and being organized.”

As an introduction to management, Leah moved into a role that allowed her to have more corporate experience, and she continued to take on new positions in to order to broaden her depth of knowledge. A role that stands out for Leah was a new position that helped facilitate getting patients out of the hospital and back home.

“That gave me more exposure to the community, primary care and some of the challenges that families face. It was the impetus for realizing I could make a difference for patients and families if I continued down this road.”

Leah’s career as a manager continued to bring her to new settings and challenges including a small rural hospital and the Queensway Carleton Hospital’s Emergency Department. However, Leah realized to further advance her career, she would need a Master of Health Administration, which she completed at The University of Toronto.

Impacting system change

Leah’s first senior leadership role was at ARH as the Chief Nursing Executive (CNE). During her six years with the organization, Leah focused on improving employee engagement, helping to develop the Family Health Team and build a more collaborative relationship, and introducing the implementation of the electronic medical records system to improve quality and safety.

Leah later transitioned to the CNE position at Queensway Carleton Hospital and when the President and CEO Tom Schonberg passed away suddenly in 2019, Leah took on the interim role for six months.

“That’s when I realized that even at a higher level, I could have more influence on the healthcare system,” shared Leah.

This set the course for what eventually came to be in 2021.

A return to ARH

Leah is excited to return to ARH in her new role as President and CEO.

“It’s a very collaborative culture,” said Leah. “People are very committed and very loyal to this organization. I’ve come back and you don’t come back to something that wasn’t good.”

From day one, Leah has made it part of her routine to make a stop in a work area first thing in the morning to have a catch-up conversation with staff and physicians. And, on her way out for the day, she will stop on one of the units. Leah also hopes to shadow team members to better understand their job – what works for them and what doesn’t, and to connect on a personal level.

“I’m all about a flat hierarchy and you don’t see that in a lot of organizations. To me, it’s important that people feel comfortable talking to you about anything.”

Looking ahead to COVID recovery

As Leah looks ahead to the next few months, recovering from COVID-19 will be one of the biggest priorities.

“I know that everyone at the Hospital, Grove and Community Programs has struggled through COVID and the environment is very different and very difficult. Health human resources is a real challenge, and we will need to look at what will improve the work life for people across the organization. From a Board perspective, we will examine what new practices have emerged from the pandemic that we want to grow, such a virtual care to help give patients access to specialists in Ottawa.”

The other main area of focus will be working with the Board of Directors on the strategic plan, determining ARH’s future and how to best serve the community.

“Arnprior is a growing community,” said Leah. “I lived in Carleton Place for most of my life, so I understand those transitions. Our focus needs to be on how we make sure that ARH is meeting the needs of the community and how the community can help support the organization.”

At home in Calabogie

Leah lives on the water in Calabogie with her husband who is retired. She has two adult daughters – Leah’s oldest lives in Canmore, Alberta and is planning her wedding for May 2022, and her youngest daughter lives in Casselman and was married last October and welcomed a baby boy in July 2021.

Leah enjoys golfing in the summer and downhill skiing in the winters. Year round, Leah enjoys reading, knitting and family time.

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